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Unlocking Film Heritage

Unlocking Film Heritage is a transformative programme that has unlocked over 10,000 films from across the UK’s archives for everyone in the UK to enjoy.

With the growing transition from physical to digital display BFI recognised within its Film Forever strategy that the UK’s screen heritage was in danger of being stranded in the analogue domain and forever inaccessible to the people of Britain. Aided by National Lottery funding, the BFI established a five year programme of works (2012-2017) unlocking film for all to enjoy, and keeping it safe for future generations. It did so by investing in preservation from analogue originals to digitisation, interpretation and access. Unlocking Film Heritage is one of the largest and most complex archive preservation programmes ever undertaken in the UK, and is a paradigm shift from analogue to digital for the BFI’s National Film and Television Archive.

From inception, BFI broke new ground by consulting with commercial facilities, Regional and National Film Archives as well as commercial rightsholders to establish, harmonise and document technical standards and requirements for preservation and access.

With partners, this enabled the curation of over 10,000 titles for digitisation, regularly released through the Programme, primarily online. The majority are free-to-watch as part of the landmark Britain on Film and other key themed collections on BFI Player. Public access was extended further through social media, theatrical, broadcast and home entertainment releases on Blu-ray and DVD.

The BFI’s ultimate goal remains to digitise and make accessible all of the UK’s screen heritage. The UFH Programme’s innovations and achievements have made a step-change in the nation’s size of digitised archive and in the BFI’s ability to pursue this ambition in the future.

What we did

Unlocking Film Heritage, is an award winning Programme of work led by the BFI and in partnership with Regional & National Film Archives across the UK that has successfully delivered Strategic Priority Three of the BFI’s Film Forever strategy.

Transform the archive

A state of the art data centre encompassing a new Digital Preservation Infrastructure and digital capabilities solution has delivered integrated change for the BFI National Archive – strengthening archive capability for handling, digitising and storing digits now and into the future ensuring that they are safe and accessible.

Innovations in data management

All of the 10,000 titles digitised have been documented within the BFI Collections Information Database. Data aggregation was also undertaken to consolidate the existing knowledge base on British feature film and create a scalable data infrastructure – the BFI Filmography.

Give access

The Programme has substantially transformed access to the nation’s film heritage with over 50 million unique views (and growing) of the landmark Britain on Film. Above all the project has encouraged millions of people to engage with and enjoy their screen heritage for the first time.

Watch, discover and share UK film heritage

  • Strategic priority three

    Strategic priority three

    Unlocking film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy by investing in preservation, digitisation, interpretation and access.

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